ArdachirVictoryThe Sassanian Persian Empire was founded in 226 CE, with Ardashir I’s defeat of the last Parthian king, Artabanus V. This battle was commemorated in a rock relief near the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis. Before ascending the throne of the empire, Ardashir I (reigned 224-241) was a minor king of Persis in the southern region of Iran. The central part of the kingdom consisted of present-day Iraq and Iran, as well as the western strip of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Following years of warfare and several peace treaties, the empire expanded to include the northern part of Mesopotamia and the Caucasian regions, including Georgia and parts of Armenia.

The Sassanians conquered the Kushan Empire (Central Asia and Bactria) circa 226-368. Once this region was conquered, Sassanian power took hold very quickly with the advancement of governors and princes from the royal house to the status of Kushano-Sassanian kings. In the mid-fourth century, the Sassanians gradually lost control over this region and, after being defeated in 484 by the Hephtalite Empire, they lost power in the traditional Sassanian regions of Margiana, Arachosia, and Khorasan for some fifteen years. Allied with the Turks of Central Asia, the Sassanians succeeded in recovering the region located between the Oxus and the Sind in 560, but at the end of the sixth century, the Sasanian presence in these regions was more in name than reality. Local landowners took advantage of the situation to found autonomous principalities whose resistance considerably delayed the progress of the Arabian armies during their invasion of present-day Afghanistan.

In 570, Khosrow I (reigned 531-579) secured control of the Red Sea and international trade by expelling the Ethiopians from Yemen, which became a vassal state of the Sassanian Empire.

The Sassanians were the main opposition to the Roman Empire along its eastern border. The Empire lasted over 400 years, defeating the Romans many times. Shapur I obtained the first brilliant victories- the death of the Roman emperor Gordian on the battlefield; the surrender of Philip the Arab; and, especially, the capture of the emperor, Valerian, with part of his army. Shapur I knew how to take advantage of the skills of the Roman prisoners of war to build great works of art, including bridges and dams.

Some Sassanian rulers persecuted Jews and others granted them full rights, leading to a constant state of instability for the Jewish community of Babylonia. It was during this time that the Babylonian Talmud was composed.

Under the Persian Sassanian Khosrow II Parviz (the “Victorious”) (reigned 591-628), the Sassanian Empire reached its greatest expansion, including the Middle East, Egypt, and Asia Minor, which was conquered from the Byzantines. He led his troops into the Near East and captured Syria in 613. In early summer of 614, Khosrow captured Jerusalem and massacred its Christian population. In 627, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius deposed and assassinated Khosrow. The Byzantine Christians briefly ruled over the Land of Israel until the Arab conquest of 634.

Between 628 and 632, half a dozen kings and queens succeeded each other on the throne. When Yazdegerd III (reigned 632-650) finally stabilized power, it was too late to save the empire. After the murder of his father Yazdegerd III in eastern Iran, and in spite of the support of the Turks and the Chinese, Peroz III (reigned 651-677) was unable to conquer back his kingdom and sought refuge at the Chinese court. The Sasanians left the Arabs with a unified empire centralized around a strong power.

Rika Gyselen. “The Sasanian World.” In Francoise Demange (ed.). Glass Gilding, and Grand Design, Art of Sasanian Iran (224-642). Asia Society, 2007. pp.12-17.

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